Dec 312011

(Okay, this is excessively nerdy talk meant primarily for the InDesign-heads out there. It’s also incomplete. There are a TON of reasons I love GREP styles, but here I’m gonna focus on one.) A few versions back, InDesign added these things called GREP styles, which use the pattern-matching power of regular expressions to cause formatting to happen intelligently and automatically inside of a paragraph style. I used to be a Perl jockey, and that programming language really sings when you get cozy with regular expressions, so when this stuff started showing up in InDesign I was pretty damned happy. With the layout work I’ve done for Hero Games, I’ve used GREP styles to take care of a ton of the formatting that you see in stat-blocks, which is a huge boon. I did similar when doing D&D 4E statblock layout for One Bad Egg. This, however, is not about statblocks. It’s about using GREP styles to perform little tweaks to your header styles. So I’m looking at the Atomic Robo logo. It’s swanky.

And I’m wondering — is there a font that matches this? Clearly there’s some custom type design in the logo, but it’d be nifty if I could put together a header style that did a solid job of matching its look. I do some searching around via things like WhatTheFont, and I come across a pair of fonts that are sort of a match: Melrose Modern One & Two Okay, so Melrose Modern One is a bit closer of a fit, and so I start with that as my header style, getting something like this: Now the hunt for mismatches begins. The A isn’t rounded in One, but it is in Two. The I has serifts on it in One, but is a straight simple line in Two. The M isn’t really a match in either, so I have to set that aside as “it’d be nice, but this will be close enough”. Obviously the lightning bolts are added after the fact, so if I want those, I’ll have to hand-craft them. And the O in Atomic is simply different from the other O’s in the logo — but it looks a lot like the O in Two. I can solve this problem with the addition of two GREP styles (I could probably solve it with one depending on how far I wanted to go, but two will be easier for the teach, here). First, let’s look at the A and the I. I’d like these to be in Melrose Modern Two whenever I type them in the header. Prior to GREP styles, I’d need to find all the instances where I did, and apply a character style that makes them use the Two font instead of One. I’ll start by setting up a character style (“Mel 2”), because that much hasn’t changed. But to apply this effect simply and automatically in my header, I’m going to do this with a GREP style. I edit the paragraph style that I’m using for this header, and I go into the GREP Styles pane of it for the details. I create a new style that applies my character style, Mel 2. For the pattern, I want to do a single-character match for these, and I want it to apply whenever it encounters an A or an I (and as I mess around with it later, when it encounters an R and an N too, so I throw those in for good measure). My pattern is simple:


That’s regular expression speak for “a single character that is either uppercase A, I, N, or R”. What’s the header look like after I make that one change to the paragraph style, without me directly applying any character styles? Much better! And for a workaday header that feels consistent with the logo that inspired it, it’d work pretty much as is. But that O in Atomic hounds me a bit. It’d be fun if every time I typed “ATOMIC”, I got the alternative O from the Melrose Modern 2. I set up another GREP style in my header’s paragraph style, same as the first, but with a different pattern. This one’s a little more complicated — I want it to know that it’s “inside” of the ATOMIC word, but I don’t want it to apply my character style, Mel 2, to the other letters in the word — just the O. So I need it to be able to look to the left and the right of an O, and see if the letters around it spell AT MIC. That’s a concept called “positive lookbehind” and “positive lookahead”, which is a fancy way of saying look and verify, but don’t touch. In regular expression speak, that’s:


Look to the left: is AT there? That’s the first part. Look to the right: is MIC there? That’s the last part. The actually-matched thing, the O, that the character style is applied to, is in the middle. (Important tip: these are case sensitive by default. You’ve got to fiddle with the dials a bit if you want case insensitive.) If I use Mel 2 as my character style, I get this:

Boom! If I really wanted to go nuts on this, I could create a copy of Mel 2 that was maybe 10-15% bigger in size, with a baseline adjustment so the big O would drop down a bit below the other letters on the line, but that probably won’t look as good as I’d want it to because the weight of the O would change as it increased in size. So for now, with the font that I’ve got here, this is my best fit. (If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll see that before all of this I did a font size override on Robo to make it smaller than Atomic, and gave it some different spacing settings, but that’s outside of scope for what I’m demoing here.)

Now, that might seem like a lot of trouble just to do a few letter substitutions in a single logo or header when I could simply apply the character style a few times and be done with it. But as with anything involving regular expressions, the real power comes in when you have to do something a few hundred or more times. With the GREP Style enabled header I’ve made, I can just type FRED DEFINITELY LOVES THOSE ATOMIC GREP STYLES and I get all my A’s, I’s, N’s and R’S substituted out all proper, without having to do anything other than apply the paragraph style to the text — here’s a before and after, without and with the GREP styles involved:

This isn’t always about one font for another font, of course. It’s all in what you do with the character style that you’re applying. Maybe you’re just changing the weight of the same typeface; maybe you’re giving it a different color or a slightly different size; maybe you’re turning on or off certain OpenType features (like swashes) — I did a lot of that last bit with the headers for the Dresden Files RPG, because its header font, Newcomen, has some crazy-great OpenType features, but not always ones that I like consistently turned on or off for every letter or letter combo.

GREP styles are incredibly versatile, and with a few smartly constructed patterns, you can save yourself a lot of work and cause your text to conditionally format itself with a single click.

Can’t recommend them enough.

Apr 012011

This card game is going to have zeppelins.

Lots of zeppelins. Fast ones. Slow ones. Big ones. Small ones. Aggressive. Pacifist. Chaotic.

They’ll each be in a pulp-style villainous mastermind’s armada, but which fleet they’ll end up in isn’t predetermined. Maybe they’ll be in the conquerer ape’s armada — or the fleet of the martian weather-witch. They could be sky-pirates, or they could be steampunkified electro-vessels. They could be stolen from the future, and crewed by roman soldiers.

But what they need most of all is names.

That’s where you come in. We’re looking for names from you. Share some appropriately pulpy-sounding zeppelin-names with us, here, in the comments. Bonus points if you give us a quick one-phrase description of the kind of zeppelin it is. And remember — these are zeppelins piloted by the bad guys!

If we use your names, you’ll have bragging rights, and … maybe something more (TBD)!

Mar 212011

As I mentioned before, Evil Hat is looking at getting into making card games, relying on Jeff Tidball to do the design work and share the benefit of his extensive experience with us. We’re trying to start reasonably modestly, and — as with anything — work our way up to bigger projects down the road (assuming the effort leads to enough sales to support that).

One of the interesting aspects of this kind of work is the degree of disconnection between the “skin” of a game (the story-conceit, what it looks like, all that) and the “bones” of it (its rules). If you’re doing a licensed game (we’re not, at least not as our first one), you probably start skin first, and then feel around for a rules concept that can play comfortably inside that skin. Personally, though, I’m a rules junkie — I like the fiddlies — so when I look at a design, that’s where my head starts.

With a card game, you can find yourself skinless to start. You may find yourself with the root of a rules concept you’d like to explore, and it’s only through the exploration that you’ll uncover what your best-fit skin for that might be. Part of it is about fitting the rules, and part of it is about making sure the high concept of the game is something you can explain clearly and succinctly, in a way that piques interest and gets folks willing to sit down and play a hand.

With our first game in development, I brought an idea to Jeff that had been banging around in my head for a few years.

The idea grew out of a drive back from one of the big summer conventions with Matt Gandy and Rob Donoghue, where we devolved into a certain amount of “leet speek” trash-talking: IM IN UR BASE, KILLIN UR MANS. Of course, that phrase right there stuck with me and I got the vestiges of a card game idea, where each player is frantically trying to build his base, while the other players were sending invading DOODZ who might kill his MANS. I didn’t take it very far, but the core idea there stuck with me: each player trying to build a 3×3 grid of cards in front of him as his base of operations, the center card representing the player himself in the command & control center, and the ring of cards around that card forming the perimeter of the base, with various defenses and weaponry in place.

So I tossed that idea at Jeff, and he liked it enough to get off to the races. We gave the prototype the code name SIEGE, knowing we’d be changing it; the design concepts Jeff hashed out (which I’ll talk about in a later post after it’s had a little more development & testing done)  didn’t have a home yet in terms of skin. What was the 3×3 grid of cards going to represent? What about the occupant in the center card of the “base”? We kicked around a few ideas over the course of this, including:

  • Sci fi/future war techno-bases, cleaving close to the original roots of the idea
  • Castles with all sorts of fantasy tropes & flair
  • Video game playtesters at a (collapsing) start-up, holing up in their cubicles in order to fight off the HR goons coming to pink-slip them

Each of these had their charms, but they didn’t necessarily sit perfectly right for some of the rules ideas Jeff was coming up with. Then the idea of treating the 3×3 grid less as a physical structure and more as a formation came to mind. That’s when it got interesting for us. A formation of what?

As a publisher, one of the things worth looking at is what else you have in your catalog that your new product can “vibe” with, hopefully driving some cross-sales traffic. We talked about some of Evil Hat’s intellectual property, too, through the course of this — and when we said “a formation of what?”, pretty damn quickly we arrived at the only possible, the only right answer.


Stay tuned to see what we’re going to let fly.

Sep 112010

So, the theme and ingredients for Game Chef went live last evening, and as is my sickness, my mind got to thinking.

I’ll admit that at very first blush I wasn’t that inspired (I joked that my initial reaction was “but Dark Sun just came out!”), partly because I’m a gear-head and a year without any kind of explicit mechanical ingredient can end up leaving me a bit cold. Luckily (or, perhaps, unluckily for my schedule) the “meh” didn’t last very long.

The theme is journey (some folks are taking this as Journey, the band, at least in jest; there’s something to that). The ingredients are: desert, edge, city, skin. “Skin”, really, is where I think this thing gets interesting. If you stick with desert/edge/city as your choice of three, honestly it runs the risk of feeling pretty mundane (at least on the surface — or skin — of it, heh). So I started on that angle, then reached for desert next, and conflated the two.

Here’s the thematic gist that that ended up producing for me, distilled from last night’s tweetery:

You are pilgrims to the city of Nape, the place of shadows and the last source of water to be found in the wake of the Dry God’s fall. This desert you journey through is the Dry God’s skin, this land his husk.

The desert will test you, as it tests us all. If you reach Nape and can survive what the shadows hold for you, salvation. Death otherwise.

Over on Facebook, Ryan Macklin tossed in: “Some hold that to reach Nape is to reach death, and yet we strive. For how can we not? The desert tests, but it also calls.” There’s something to that, certainly, and might inform character creation (in that it’s important to determine why you must reach Nape).

A quick grab-bag of thoughts follow:

The title for me lives somewhere around “Dry Run” or “Run Dry”.

I see water as hit points, and the slow inevitable creep of thirst. I like the idea that the journey forces you to expend precious resources, and that by the journey’s end — the climax of the closed-scenario that this game would be — you’ll be pushed by those taxed resources into acts of desperation. I’m seeing a few thresholds here, where as your water level drops, you’ll hit the “thirst” stage and then the “desperate” stage and then “madness”, each with its own consequences and compulsions.

In a way, I want the climate of a submarine drama here, in that making the pilgrimage requires you to travel with others, but the inexorable crushing pressure of thirst over time drives the group eventually towards theft, infighting, backstabbery, betrayal, and paranoia. I’m not yet decided if I want to introduce a Shadows Over Camelot/BSG boardgame style element of “one of the pilgrims may be stealing the water”, or if I want the game simply to drive the characters toward making some hard, ugly choices as endgame draws closer. I do like the idea of someone being revealed as a traitor (potentially), and gaining a benefit (like, “get back half of the water you’ve lost up to this point”) when it happens.

I should think at least a little about stuff like The Mountain Witch and Carry, where there’s a limited cast of characters on a journey together, but I’m not sure I’ll go that route, so this is more a note for inspiration than derivation.

I’m finding myself drawn towards card-based resolution. I do like my dice, but I want some kind of mechanical constraint here, and I’ve had half of a notion of a card-based resolution system banging around in my head for a while. Lots of stuff can be done here, with blind draws, voting, reveals, all of that, and I like the idea of people being able to expend water in order to increase their hand size when going into a conflict.

There’s also the potential to use the cards, In A Wicked Age oracle style, as a way to randomly generate the trials of the desert (that adds the challenge of coming up with 52 distinct trials, of course, and more if I also do some random tables around what happens at Nape, but hey, the point is to rise to a challenge, not go easy).

With the physical environment as desert, and that informing the whole myth of the Dry God (which will only emerge in snippets; I don’t want to say too much about that part of things, somewhat for fruitful void purposes), I want to make sure that the “skin” ingredient is exploited as much as possible. I’m thinking about looking at a little lightweight research into skin conditions and locations and creatures (like dust being mostly dead skin and the foodstuff of dust mites) as sources of inspiration for the trials of the desert. It needs to feel like the desert pilgrimage is in fact a journey across the skin of a god’s corpse.

I’m running a risk of perhaps going too lightly on the “city” ingredient, but given that the theme is a journey, I’m finding it difficult to do much more than say that the city is the destination. I’ll have to think a bit more about what Nape must contain (and what it might contain) for the pilgrims once the game moves into that phase.

Will I finish this thing, or just theorize about it? Hard to say so far. But this is where my head is at.

Incidentally, I strongly encourage anyone with even a little bit of a bug for game design to consider participating during this weekend and following week. Design “competitions” like this one are very good practice, even when — or perhaps especially when — you end up tossing the results at the end. It’s a great learning opportunity.